Winding Road Guest Blog: What’s That In The Ditch?

Features I By Winding Road Staff I March 09, 2011

Our latest Guest Blog is also our first from one of our Canadian neighbors. Correctly, then, the topic revolves around winter driving, dos and don’ts, and keeping one’s wheels safely pavement-side. Check out our earlier Guest Blogs (here and here), and make sure to send in your own version, at [email protected].

Here on Canada’s northern prairie we did actually experience our annual mid-winter thaw, but it didn’t last. Temperatures were hovering around freezing for a week or so, but were back to thirty below by Valentine’s Day. It is at times like those that we are really reminded of the fact that Edmonton, Alberta is an arctic city—we are, after all, round about the same latitude as Siberia. But that’s really just an excuse for the graders to be two weeks late in plowing out our suburbs after a big dump of snow.  

You wouldn’t know it from the cars, though. Mustang GTs and new Camaro SSs still ply the streets on their performance rubber, and that they’re last away from the stoplights only makes them madder at the Subarus and Mercedes-Benz 4Matics that power past them. Around here, even blue-haired ladies know that all-season rubber is no-season rubber. Sadly the superiority of snow tires is often lost on the Edelbrock boys.

Highway Two runs north-south between Edmonton and Calgary, an almost 300-kilometer straight shot of four-lane expressway. It’s lightly patrolled in the summer, and convoys of M5s and 911s regularly make quick work of an early July morning. But such is not the case this time of year. The rule of thumb is that after a snowstorm, there are three kinds of vehicles we see backwards in the ditch: late-model Pony Cars, short-wheelbase Jeeps, and oilfield-equipped three-quarter-ton 4x4s. The backwards Mustang kids are easy to understand—most of them haven’t yet figured out that summer and winter traction aren’t quite the same thing, and it takes a few tow truck bills for them to get the invincibility sticker off the dashboard.  

But the Jeeps and F250s are a different story. What should be some of the safest kinds of winter transport end up defeated because so many people have forgotten Sir Isaac Newton’s lessons on the inevitability of inertia. If four-wheel drive is good, it would seem to some Albertans, then, a straight chunk of Highway Two at 130 kilometers per hour is a pretty easy proposition. Easy, that is, until a tiny piece of black ice throws that nice, white GMC 2500 sideways. There is a certain beauty in watching over two tons of 4WD Dodge Cummins do a 540-degree turn at 120 kph—it’s a little bit like watching a 300-pound ballerina—but the routine gets a little old if it’s the third one you’ve seen in an hour.

In the meantime, I keep a new set of Michelin Ice on our CR-V, and the cruise control set to “sensible guy” speed. Our Yokohama A008-wearing Turbo Miata stays in the garage until April. If I’m going to spin the Mazda, it’s going to happen on dry pavement at 12 pounds boost, and it’ll happen because I want it to.

—D.B. Jorgensen


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